5 Dynasty Baseball Prospect Risers 4-15-24

by Mike Schneider
Dynasty Baseball Prospect Risers

Welcome to the 4-15-24 edition of 5 Dynasty Baseball Prospect Risers in my prospect rankings.

On the 15th and 30th of each month during the baseball season, I will profile five prospects moving up my prospect rankings. I hope to identify some prospects that help folks in their dynasty leagues.

With the AAA season beginning a week before the rest of the minor leagues, this first edition of the year profiles prospects in AAA. These prospects could be in the majors this year, but several of them have more straightforward paths to major league opportunities.

5 Dynasty Baseball Prospect Risers 4-15-24

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James Wood, Nationals, CF, Age 21, Ranking 5

Listed at 6'7" and 234 pounds, few prospects in baseball have the physical skills of James Wood. Based on how Wood looked in spring training and the beginning of the AAA season, Wood appears to have taken a big leap forward in 2024.

Wood grew up in Olney, Maryland not far from National Park. To improve his baseball skills, Wood attended IMG Academy in Florida. The Padres selected Wood with the 62nd overall pick in the 2021 draft.  He signed for 2.6 million well over the 1.1 million slot.

Wood immediately impressed with a .372/.465/.535 line with three homers and a perfect ten for ten on the bases in 26 games in the Arizona Complex League. Wood opened the 2022 season at Single-A Lake Elsinore. He missed about six weeks with a right wrist injury in May and June, As of the trade deadline he had played 50 games and hit ten homers, stole 15 bases with a 470 wOBA. a walk rate over 15% and a strikeout rate under 20%.

The Padres traded Wood to the Nationals as part of the Juan Soto trade. Wood finished 2022 at Single-A Fredericksburg where in 21 games he had a .829 OPS.

Last year Wood began the year at High A Wilmington.  In 42 games Wood had a 155 wRC+ with eight homers and eight steals. He was promoted to Harrisburg on May 28th where he was one of the youngest players in AA.  In 87 games Wood had a .826 OPS with 18 homers and eight steals. The concern was the 33.7% strikeout rate.

In spring training Wood had the highest OPS in baseball at 1.214. He hit four homers and walked more than he struck out. In 12 games at AA A so far in 2024, Wood has two homers, six doubles, five steals, and a .379/.500./.630 line with a 19% strikeout rate.

With Jackson Holiday called up earlier this week, James Wood it's my highest-ranked prospect who has not played in the majors.  Wood and Paul Skenes are likely to be the next highly hyped prospect to get the call in the not-too-distant future.

Connor Norby, Orioles, LF/2B, Age 23, Ranking 79

In a lot of organizations, Connor Norby would already be getting regular play time in the majors.  However, the Orioles are stacked with position players and there does not appear to be a path to regular playing time in Baltimore.

Norby played high school ball near Winston-Salem and attended East Carolina.   He did not play much as a freshman but was hitting .403 in 17 games the following year before the remainder of the season was canceled. Norby put together a .415/484/.659 line with 15 homers and 18 steals in 61 games as a Junior. The Orioles selected Norby with the 41st overall pick in the 2021 draft.

After getting his feet wet with a .947 OPS in 26 games a Single A Delmava in 2021. Norby hit 29 homers across three levels in 2022. Norby got better as the season went along and he was playing at higher levels. He was significantly better in 64 games at AA Bowie (157 w RC+) than he was in 48 games at High A Aberdeen 99 w RC+).  Norby finished the season with nine games at AAA where he hit four homers.

Last year Norby spent the entire season at AAA where he hit 21 homers with a .290/.359/.483 line.  He was better in the second half (.907 OPS with 13 homers) than he was in the first half (.779 OPS with eight homers).

Norby has gotten off to a big start in 2024 with a .313..375/563 line with four homers in 14 games.

At the AAA level, Norby has played 160 games with 29 homers, 124 runs, 114 RBIs, and a .296/.363/.505 line. Typically this is good enough to earn a promotion to the majors for a high draft pick who reached AAA the year after being drafted. However, Norby does not seem to have a clear path to playing time with the Orioles.

Norby is an offensive first player. Before this year, he has primarily played second base with some outfield. Norby's defensive skills at second are a bit below average and the Orioles are loaded in the infield. This year Norby is mostly playing in the outfield. He is a good enough athlete to handle the large left field in Camden Yard if he develops good outfield skills.

For 2024 it may take an injury to get Norby a shot with the Orioles. There is also the chance that Norby gets traded for pitching and gets a chance with another team,

Landon Knack, Dodgers, RHP, Age 26, Ranking 86

It is easy to dismiss Landon Knack because he will be 27 in July.  However, coming into 2024 he has 227.1 innings as a pro.

Knack went to Walter State Community College for two years before transferring to East Tennessee State in 2019. Knack had a strong first year with East Tennessee State. In 2020 Knack was dominant to begin the year until it was canceled due to COVID allowing just three runs in 25 innings with 51 strikeouts. The Dodgers selected Knack in the second round (60th overall).

Knack was a month shy of turning 24 when he finally made his pro debut in June 2021.  He split 2021 between High A and AA with a 30.1% strikeout minus walk rate and a 0.93 WHIP.

In each of his first three pro seasons, Knack has missed some time with injuries. After getting a late start in 2022, Knack struggled with consistency at AA Tulsa alternating great games with rough outings. He finished with a 1.41 WHIP, and a .257 batting average against a 9.6% walk rate.

Knack was much better in 2023 where he began the year back at AA Tulsa.  In 12 starts, Knack had a 0.94 WHIP with a 22% strikeout minus walk rate. He was promoted to AAA Oklahoma City on July 17th  where he made ten starts before missing the last part of the year with a minor arm injury.

On opening day Knack pitched five shutout innings allowing just three hits with no walks and six strikeouts.  Overall in three starts Knack has pitched 15.2 innings allowing 11 hits and four walks with 16 strikeouts, His fastball is in the low nineties so he will need strong secondary pitches.  He has had success with his slider and changeup.  He rarely throws the curveball.

The Dodgers have plenty of pitching and even with several injuries, Knack is insurance for them. However, he is a major league-ready pitcher who could spend a good portion of the years in the big leagues either with the Dodgers or with another team.

Jack Leiter, Rangers, RHP, Age 24, Ranking 118

When the Rangers selected Jack Leiter with the second overall pick in the 2021 draft, he was not expected to need much time in minors. Leiter was coming off an outstanding year at Vanderbilt where he struck out 179 batters in 110 innings with a 0.85 WHIP.

In 2021 if someone had told me that the Rangers would win the World Series in 2023, my expectation would have been that Leiter would have been a big part of the team. However, coming into this year, Leiter has only pitched  3.1 innings above AA.

Leiter has managed to stay healthy as a pro but has struggled with his mechanics over the last couple of years. He began his pro career in 2022 at AA Frisco where he had a 13.2% walk rate and a 1.55 WHIP in 92.2 innings.

Last year, Leiter began the year back in AA, after walking 15 batters in 20 innings with a 1.85 WHIP in April, Leiter has a nice May with a .148 batting average against and a 0.96 WHIP. However, Leiter got blown up in consecutive starts on June 30th and July 7th.

The Rangers gave Leiter a pause and sent him to the Development List.  Leiter did not pitch again in a game until August 27th.  In his next four starts at AA, Leiter had a 39.7% strikeout rate with a 6.3 walk rate while holding batters to a .186 batting average against. He was promoted to AAA Round Rock for the last start of the year.

To begin 2024, Leiter had a dominant start on March 30th where he struck out nine without allowing a walk in five innings.  Leiter was not as sharp in his second game on April 6th, but still struck out six of 16 batters faced. He rebounded in his third start on April 12 where he struck out 10 and did not walk a batter.

Leiter throws a fastball in the mid-nineties and a slider that he throws about  80% of the time that has been quite effective with a .178 batting average against.  He also throws a curveball and a very occasional changeup and cutter that are not as effective. Developing a third pitch and improving his command are the keys to Leiter's success.

Joey Loperfido, Astros, UT, Age 24, Ranking 254

A year ago, it looked like Joey Loperfido's versatility might give him a chance to be a fringe major league bench player. Since then his emerging power has given him a chance to be more than that.

There have been several hitters from Duke in recent years who have become better pro hitters than expected. In the pandemic-shortened 2020 college season Joey Loperfido, Graham Pauley, and Matt Mervis were teammates at Duke.

Loperfido is from Philadelphia which is not a hot spot for baseball talent. He had an excellent freshman year in 2018 where he mostly played first base and had a .315/408/.475 line with six homers and sixteen steals in 63 games. However, he was not as good as a sophomore with a .749 OPS  while primarily playing second base.

In 2020, Loperfido moved to centerfield his third position in three years before the season was cut short after just 16 games. Loperfido was not drafted in the five-round 2020 MLB draft so he returned to Duke for his senior year. In 2021 Loperfido hit .374/474/.612 with eight homers and 12 steals in 53 games. He was drafted in the seventh round by the Astros but got a well-under-slot bonus as a senior sign.

In 2021 as a pro  Loperfido has just eight hits in 69 at-bats in Single A.  However, in 2022 Loperfido was much better with a 142 wRC+ in 82 games at Single-A and a 166 wRC+ in 25 games at High A. In 108 games total in 2022, Loperfido hit 12 homer homers and stole 32 bases while playing five positions.

Last year, Loperfido began the year at High A but was promoted to AA Corpus Cristi on April 20th and then to AAA on August 15th.  Overall he hit 25 homers and stole 27 bases while starting at least 14 games at five different positions.

So far in 2024, Loperfido is leading all of professional baseball with 10 homers in just 14 games with 24 RBIs.  His 12 barrels are four more than anyone else in the minors. The concern is that since getting to AAA last August 15th, Loperfido has struck out 33% of the time.

Loperfido continues to walk over 10% of the time and his ability to play all over the diamond will help provide opportunities. With the Astros off the a slow start, it may not be long before they bring Loperfido up.

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